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Down in the Tees mouth

Robbo Robson | 12:23 UK time, Tuesday, 26 May 2009

The smog has enveloped Middlesbrough. Actually the sun is being cruelly chirpy out there, but we are in deep mourning. There's no point in pretending otherwise.

Even though we visited Upton Park on Sunday fully understanding that we were drinking No-Hope Ale in the Last Chance Saloon at the Too Late Tavern while a whole bevy of lardy lasses were stood around in the snug, lungs full to bursting, relegation still hits you like a windscreen hits a midge.

The wife had to drag me out of the Blue Bell on Sunday night, with the lure of a chicken vindaloo from Ashok's and the promise of a long lie-in on Monday. Sometimes only a violent barrage of chilli can exterminate the pain.

Dejected Middlesbrough fansThe last game was a pretty good summation of the season. A bit of decent possession, schoolboy defending and a goal down, a neat Tuncay-inspired equaliser and we're back behind again within 10 minutes.

The old cliché about being at your most vulnerable after you score was really true for the Boro this season, although we were always quite vulnerable before we scored, and extremely vulnerable as they scored, but I've made my point.

We've had keepers as nervy as a robin in a cattery, defences that parted with all the predictability of a celebrity divorce, and a bunch of forwards who couldn't have finished an article in the News of the World.

Southgate has to take his fair share of the blame. The £12m on Alves has made £28m on Juan Sebastian Veron look like transfer-dealing genius. Schwarzer and Cattermole have not been properly replaced and the hard-working lads who have been turning out for the club have looked at times like a bunch of local mascots who won the 'You Can Play For The Boro' raffle.

I still like Southgate, mind. He's not made silly excuses and he's taken it on the chin. I hope he sticks around for a season and puts it right - and if he can't then fair enough, someone else can fill his boots. Gibson's a decent enough human being to give him that chance.

How galling it would have been then to see a club like Newcastle somehow escape from the mire with the aid of Mr Shearer. I don't quite go along with the idea that the Toon Army deserves Championship football next season, but the club - and the way it has been run - definitely do.

The match at Villa summed them up. A bunch of overpaid, underpowered mercenaries save for Taylor and Harper (and at least Duff has pledged to stay and turn it around). Shearer was at his most diplomatic when he said he couldn't fault his players for effort. One more crowd threatening hack by Obafemi aside they did nowt.

There's going to be a few agents with their work cut out over the summer. Hundred grand a week for Michael Owen anyone? Seventy grand a week for Viduka? We'll give you 50 quid if you take Joey Barton.

Ashley was already carrying the weight of the world round his midriff but he's lumbered with the Magpies for a while yet.

Will Shearer stay? For all his monotone frankness - and he's generally about as sentimental as a computer print-out in post-match interviews - he's a true Geordie, all right. I can't see him being able to tear himself away now he's had a taste of it.

Still there's a right cushy little job waiting for him. That sofa must look a million-pound mattress on a four-poster king-size, adorned with two pert Swedish masseuses compared to the bed of nails that he's been perching on at St James' for the last eight games.

I hope he sticks with it. The last thing Newcastle United need now is some other mildly successful pragmatist being booed out of town 'cos he's not steeped in the lyrical romance of the Newcastle way.

At least Shearer would provide some sort of stability for next season while the club are inevitably beset by secret bids from billionaire hermits, or ragtag associations of Tyneside entrepreneurs and celebs, or a chirpy Venezuelan peasant farmers collective, or whoever.

Congratulations to Hull for not being quite as useless as the bottom three, despite being the worst team in the division since Christmas. That's not so much sour grapes as a whole bleeding vineyard of bitter fruit, but never has a team so patently scraped through.
Phil Brown
Phil Brown's impromptu tra-la-la was right up there with Sir Cliff's rain-soaked Wimbledon warbling and Delia Smith's half-time howl (and remember where Norwich are now!) Of course we had a bit of entertainment at the Blue Bell on Sunday evening too. The Morrissey karaoke went down dead well.

I've already put a thousandth of Michael Owen's weekly wage (a shedload of cash in other words) on Hull going down next season. Not sure I'll do the same with Burnley - which is one of the better stories of the season.

Burnley have been fantastic, Coyle must be one of the best young managers around and they thoroughly deserve promotion. Sheffield United are one of the inter-league bobbers and they'll be in the play-offs next year too, for sure. I think that's the future for the Boro, too.

For now, I'll try and look forward to the Game of the Century on Wednesday night. That'll perk me up, won't it? A cavalcade of attacking endeavour between two of the most terrifying attacks ever to have taken to the turf.

Only you know what? Fergie's going to go for two banks of four, nab an early goal on the break and hold on to a 1-0 'til the final whistle.

There'll be more tumbling than you find in the Chinese State circus and the whole thing will be a damp squib. Still, I don't reckon finding Scarlett Johansson in a basque on me kitchen table with a pie in one hand and a pint in the other could cheer up this smoggie right now.


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